Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How Good Was Doug Harvey?

One player that is a sabermetrics and hockey challenge is Doug Harvey and his rating in a top 10 defencemen of all time list. Pnep's Hall of Fame Monitor ranks Doug Harvey the third best defenceman of all time. Daryl Shilling's Hockey Project Rating System does not rank Harvey in the top 10 defencemen of all time (he rates him 16th). As I stated in the sabermetric challenge of Ray Bourque, I think Harvey is one of the most dominant defenders of all time. I would rank him the second best defenceman of all time.

Doug Harvey broke into the NHL in 1947 with the Montreal Canadiens. He was immediately seen as an outstanding physical presence who was very good in his own zone. In the 1951/52 season he made his first leap to the level of elite defenceman when he was named to the First All Star Team for the first of ten times in an eleven year period (he only made second team in 1959). In 1954, the Norris Trophy first came into existence. Harvey won it for the first time in 1955. He won it seven times over an eight year period. In 1961, the "rebuilding" Habs who were one year removed from winning 5 Stanley Cups in a row (of course Harvey was a big part of this), traded the 36 year old defending Norris Trophy winner to the New York Rangers for tough guy Lou Fontinato. Harvey won one final Norris Trophy in his first year with the Rangers before slowing down and signing as a free agent in the AHL with Quebec in the 1963/64 season, where he made the AHL Second Team All Star (back in the original six days, sometimes NHL role players would get offers for the same money they could make in the NHL to star with an AHL team). He spent two years with Quebec before signing as a free agent with AHL Baltimore. After a year and a half there, Baltimore attempted to trade him to Providence. Harvey had a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he was traded. He activated this clause and signed with the NHL Detroit Red Wings. Detroit started him out with their AHL affiliate in Pittsburgh, but by the end of the year he was back in the NHL with Detroit at age 42. The next year, the NHL expanded to twelve teams. St Louis signed Harvey as a free agent and named him playing coach of their farm team in the CPHL in Kansas City. When Kansas City missed the playoffs, the Blues brought Harvey back up to the NHL for their playoff run. A 43 year old Harvey scored 4 points in 8 playoff games. Harvey played the next season in the NHL with St Louis before permanently retiring and trying his hand as a coach.

Harvey had a stretch of 11 years from 1951/52 to 1961/62 where he was a superstar defenceman. It is the best eleven year run of any defenceman ever in hockey history (Bobby Orr had a better run but it lasted a shorter time). Doug Harvey chose to slow down and become an AHL player at the conclusion of this run (at this time, this is almost the equivalent of WHA time that Darryl Shilling would consider undocumented time - despite the fact it is fully documented). He made a few more runs as a useful NHL defenceman well into his forties before retiring to coach.

Pnep gets Harvey rated in approximately the correct position (third) because he strongly values awards and Stanley Cup playoff runs (Harvey was part of six Stanley Cup victories in Montreal). This is where he gets the majority of his points in Pnep's system. Harvey was not an offensive star. His career best was a 50 point year in 1956/57. This lack of offence makes Harvey hard to rate. An ideal sabermetric system would be able to quantify his defensive prowess and not require the input of awards voted upon by others (who might make incorrect calls on occassion). However, in this case, Harvey's awards and playoff success make up for his lack of offence in Pnep's system.

Shilling seriously underrates Harvey. This is because Shilling puts a much higher emphasis of scoring for defenceman then Pnep does, although Pnep has a much more awkward calibration of points between different positions. In Shilling's system, Harvey fails to score well in his career value, in his career scoring rates and in his "dominance" which is related to leading the league in offensive stats relative to other defencemen of the time.

I think Doug Harvey is the best example of a player who had great defensive value but did not dominate offensively. That makes him a sabermetric challenge. An ideal sabermetric system would be able to evaluate his defensive prowess and show his dominance without requiring the external input of the awards he won. This system should be able to show that he was a deserving choice for these awards. It should show his value to be as great as some of the better seasons by offensive defencemen over the years. I do not how to do this in practise. Defensive prowess is very hard to show statistically.

Doug Harvey was an elite defenceman. Showing this sabermetrically is hard.

Pual Coffey, is now number 2.

Doug Harvey's stint as player-coach of the Rangers showed how great a player he was. He took over an underachieving team in 1961 with the same personnel as the dismal year before took them to the playoffs giving the eventual cup champs Toronto a scare in a hard fought 6 game series with the pivotal game 5 going to a second overtime before the leafs won on a Red Kelly goal.Harvey did a great job coaching while winning the Norris trophy.Without Harvey as coach the next year the Rangers resumed their traditional spot out of the playoffs
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